one of 100 signed de luxe copies with an original gouache
MEE, Margaret Ursula. Flowers of the Brazilian Forests Collected and Painted by Margaret Mee Foreword on the Brazilian Forests by Roberto Burle Marx with a Preface by Sir George Taylor. London: L. van Leer & Company for The Tryon Gallery in association with George Rainbird, 1968.
Folio (530 x 390mm). Original full natural vellum by Zaehnsdorf, gilt facsimile of author's signature blocked on upper board, vignette of a tejú-assu lizard after Mee blocked in gilt on lower board, spine lettered in gilt, endpapers with printed vignettes of the tejú-assu after Mee, top edges gilt,; pp. , title printed in green and black; illustration: original gouache over pencil painting on paper watermarked 'Raffaello Fabbriano' signed 'Margaret Mee' mounted as an additional frontispiece, retaining tissue guard, 32 colour-lithographed plates including frontispiece, all plates retaining tissue guards, text illustrations, double-page map [after Greville Mee] printed in red and black showing Mee's journeys and the locations where the flowers depicted were collected, ; a fine copy.
First and only edition, limited to 500 copies de luxe copies signed by Mee to verso of title page and with an original gouache by Mee. Both the issues of 100 de luxe copies and of six copies reserved for the artist contain an original gouache painting by Mee mounted as a frontispiece. Mee's early expeditions into the Amazon region culminated in this, the first major publication of her Brazilian flower paintings and a botanical book of the greatest importance. Not only are the images the result of painstaking observation and meticulous attention to detail, the descriptions -- supplemented by notes from Mee's own travel diaries -- were written by the noted Brazilian, American, and British taxonomists Luiz Emygdio de Mello, Bassett Maguire, André Robyns, Richard S. Cowan, Lyman B. Smith, John J. Wurdack, B.L. Burtt, David R. Hunt, Guido F.J. Pabst, and Raulino Reitz. The text, which is prefaced by an introduction by Mee's friend Roberto Burle Marx (1909-1994), the famed Brazilian artist and landscape gardener, has an authoritative rigour that supports the magnificent illustrations.
As George Taylor (the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) remarked in his preface, 'special scientific interest and importance attaches to certain of the plates, which portray species new to science, or are illustrated for the first time, and the consummate quality of all the paintings is enhanced by botanical accuracy in the observation of detail [...] Mee's work is of an unusually high order of excellence, and in the best tradition of flower painting'. The three new species described and illustrated are the Catasetum meeae (no. 16, 'collected by Margaret Mee in the State of Amazonas, at the Içana River [in December 1964], and brought into cultivation at São Paolo where it flowered in July 1965', and named for Mee by Pabst); the Spathiphyllum grazielae (no. 31, collected in Paranapiacaba, São Paolo, in February 1967); the Neoregelia margaretae (no. 25, collected by Mee by the Rio Içana in January 1965 and named for her by Smith). Ruth Stiff and Simon Mayo state that, 'during her journeys, Margaret Mee collected four of the five species of Neoregalia known from Amazonian Brazil, and is credited with first discovering three of them herself -- N. margaretae, N. leviana, and N. meeana. Margaret's significant contribution to the knowledge of this genus helped establish her reputation as both a scientist and a botanical explorer. As Neoregalia margaretae has not yet been recollected, it is known only from Margaret's collections' (M. Mee Margaret Mee's Amazon (Woodbridge and Kew: 2004), p. 302).
Flowers of the Brazilian Forests was conceived when Mee's work attracted the attention of Sir George Taylor, the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, after she had won the Royal Horticultural Society's Grenfell Medal in 1960. Together with the Right Hon. Aylmer Tryon, the owner of the Tryon Gallery in Mayfair, and Wilfrid Blunt, the historian of botanical art, Taylor formulated a plan to publish Mee's work. The Duke of Edinburgh agreed to be a Patron of the project and Tryon made arrangements with George Rainbird, the gifted book designer, to design and produce the magnificent folio. Rainbird had bought the celebrated binder Zaehnsdorf in the mid-1950s and so it was natural that they should be commissioned to produce the fine bindings in natural vellum.
Mee left the Instituto de Botânica in São Paolo in 1965 and dedicated much of the next two years to the production of the book. This was exhausting work, since she not only had to prepare the thirty-two images for publication but also to complete the original gouaches that were inserted into the de luxe copies. The book was ready for publication by the summer of 1967 and was launched with a private view and dinner at the Tryon Gallery in the November, which was followed by a full exhibition in January 1968. Nearly all of the 500 copies were sold out in advance. The book was a commercial landmark; moreover, the critical response was overwhelming, and Wilfrid Blunt wrote in the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society that the paintings 'place Mrs Mee in the first rank of botanical artists. Indeed they would stand without shame in the high company of Georg Dionys Ehret and Redouté'.